The legend of the telecom customer journey

The gap from software development to final user is closing thanks to new virtualized 5G networks. In our latest post, Israel Mor explains how Ericsson works with a telecom customer journey model to guide agile software development from software ideation to delivery.

people walking on a travelator

Through the story of a journey, we can understand even the most complex narratives. It's an efficient way to help a wide and varied audience understand all of the related and associated impacts. The journey is adapted and repeated, often across many different industries. Such as in music, for example, with The Who´s Tommy journey as a blind, deaf and mute boy. Or in economics, such as with the Game Theory. So why are we not using it more in telco software development processes to connect the dots between the code and the end users?

Here are some stories which we see time and again in telecom: The sales team needs to demonstrate a new technical feature to the customer´s marketing team but doesn´t know how to explain it. The software development quality assurance team needs to test a totally re-designed functionality but doesn´t know how it will be used. The service delivery team needs to update the configuration based on updated functionality but doesn´t seem to understand how everything fits together. These have been common problems in the telco software business and became even worse once the digital transformation started to re-shape the industry. Customers' demands became more complex, deliveries became more frequent and faster. New processes such as telecom devops and agile development required new ways to bridge the gaps between the software code factory and the end-user.

That´s how the legend of the telecom customer journey was born.

The role of devops in the story

In last few decades software has changed our lives in lots of ways – mostly for the better. It has also disrupted the telecom industry and is becoming even more important with the introduction of 5G networks. These new software-defined, virtualized networks provide low-latency and high-bandwidth connections – serving use cases such as smart cities, 3D video, industry automation (supported by artificial intelligence) and self-driving cars, and providing end-to-end, real-time experiences such as virtual- and augmented reality. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) form the backbone of the upcoming 5G network, meaning that service providers can deliver ever more lucrative services to their customers and realize a competitive advantage.

Now, for those that may not know, SDN makes the network programmable and centrally controlled, while NFV replaces dedicated network appliances with software packaged in virtual machines on top of high-performance servers. This offers better control over the network, improved automation, lower CAPEX, improved network resiliency and dynamic network orchestration, among other capabilities. Because of this, a devops approach is rising sharply across telecom, bringing benefits for overall network operations, enabling deployment automation and management of service chains and 5G network slicing. Complete automation is required; to increase operational efficiency, decrease human error, save OPEX and decrease downtime.

The telecom customer journey across the business

Now back to our story. Mapping a customer journey can help organizations to understand how prospects and customers use the various channels and touchpoints, how they are perceived and how it would like its customers and prospects' experiences to be. By understanding the latter, it is possible to design an optimal experience that meets the expectations of major customer groups, achieves competitive advantage and supports attainment of desired customer experience objectives.

When this design is used as input for product development, we have a big, direct and complete link that can be followed by everyone from development, testing and implementation up to delivery, configuration, integrated tests and launch. Don't underestimate the potential of this, either. For example, there is a huge difference when the person testing the code released by R&D understands how it will actually be used and runs tests based on that. Further along the journey, the sales expert can build a product or feature demonstration based on what the user will do with it (this is usually very welcomed by marketing people that are not used to specific technical terms and presentations).

Putting theory to practice

A real-life scenario can illustrate the difference which a well-built customer journey can make in the telecom devops process. For example, a customer recently wanted to re-design the family & friends feature in the online charging system (OCS) so users could share all add-on data products among the whole family, independent from who is buying it. In the old times, it could just be developed and delivered without much hassle. This is a simple and old feature, right? Not this time. There were two extra challenges: firstly, the devops process and customer timeline demanded that it be done in a 3 weeks sprint and, secondly, there was a strong sales demand for it to presented to other customers around the world to generate more revenue.

So, we built a complete customer journey around the product. Not only to explain to the developers what the product was going to be used for, but also to get creative and create new use cases that could be re-used in different parts of the world. As soon as the software was ready, we were able to quickly build proof of concepts that brought the audience inside the journey, showcasing different system capabilities along with the new re-created feature. We were sure that everything was working as expected since the same scenarios were already tested by the quality assurance team in the agile development process. The results were huge praise from marketing teams that could finally get inside a feature and understand how it worked from a user point of view.

The next steps in your journey

Tommy´s journey to become a pinball wizard changed his life as a blind, deaf and mute boy. I and the colleagues I've spoken to here at Ericsson firmly believe that telecom software can change people´s lives. At the end of the day, every line of code that we write here impacts how operators interact with their customers, and vice-versa. This also impacts how people interact with each other. With that in mind, we're turning more to customer journeys to bring people´s needs into our software factory. Let´s embark on this journey!

If you have a couple more minutes, I recommend reading my other blog about customer experience management in telecom, and more recently, telecom order care management.

Or, visit Telecom BSS to read some of our customer experience cases.

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